Modern canna cultivars (varieties) began appearing 250 years ago with the collection of native wild cannas that are technically referred to by botanists as "species." Canna wild species produced large leaves that were fast growing with a tropical appearance in the landscaped garden. The flowers of wild canna species were small and in gardening circles were viewed as of insignificant notice as a garden subject except for the lush leaves that were highly valued in exotic landscape setting. The flowers were colorful but small and of short duration.
The wild canna species were easily inter-crossed to combine widely variable genetic characteristics, until in the year, 1870, Monsieur Crozy inter-crossed an undisclosed number of wild species, that resulted in a celebrated hybrid that he named after his wife, Madame Crozy. Luther Burbank called this matching of genetic material the beginning of modern canna hybrids, after which Burbank and another plant hybridizer, Wilheim Pfitzer, also entered their own charming canna hybrids. Luther Burbank, the notable American botanist and prolific hybridizer, was well aware of the phenomenon of back crossing various related canna lilies, and he was determined to achieve a rapid advancement in hybrid vigor by a recombination of desirable and variable plant genetic characteristics. From this large pool of variations in canna lilies, such as color, size, vigor, insect and disease resistance and cold hardiness, the plant breeder could select outstanding canna flower and leaf hybrids to market as newly named cultivars in the world of horticulture. The fact that a cross between two wild species from different continents resulted in sterile canna hybrids was also noted by Luther Burbank and was considered an advantage.
When canna hybrids result in fertile (seed producers) cultivars, the plants energy is focused on seed production, and the blooming process will slow down or completely stop. Gardeners want plants that will flower continuously, and therefore, sterile canna hybrids are more desirable than seed producers. It appears that the crossing of widely divergent canna species will usually produce sterile canna offspring. If a canna plant is a non-seed producer, it is said to be sterile, however, it may only be considered sterile when examined as a female seed producer, but frequently the pollen (male) from a "so called", sterile male canna species and a backcross onto a fertile female may result in further hybridization with increased hybrid vigor. Those canna offspring may be either seed producers or non-seed producers. This fact was well understood and applied by Luther Burbank who introduced vast improvements in American horticultural crops of flowers, fruits, grains, and vegetables.
Luther Burbank noted in his book, Flowers, Vol VIII, page 41, one of his eight volumes of horticultural writings: "Just now white cannas of very good quality are appearing and every desirable quality in plant and quality are being brought forth." It was reported on page 33 that Burbank's hybrid canna "Tarrytown" won the grand gold medal, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y. as the best canna exhibited at the time.
This canna had a special feature of flowers that dropped to the ground unlike "many canna lilies that tended to hold their blossoms, thus having an untidy appearance." Burbank crossed the Crozy canna, a large flower with varying color (yellow and orange) with Canna flaccida, a native yellow canna flower with large flowers that are not long lasting. This native Canna flaccida was discovered growing by William Bartram in 1773, the early American explorer and writer, growing in salt water ditches near Fort Frederica, Ga. On the island on St.
Simon's as reported on page 153 of his book, Travels, "What can equal the rich golden flowers of the Canna lutea," today identified and renamed, Canna flaccida, "which ornaments the banks of yon serpentine rivulet, meandering, over the meadows?" Canna flaccida still flourishes in salt water ditches there and on the black banks river near the Cloister Hotel at Sea Island, Ga., where it grows near the water beautifully, being used as an ornamental in many yards as a marsh garden plant. These native plants appear to have no insect or disease problems. Mature seeds from the golden-yellow flowers fall into the water and float downstream to establish new canna colonies. Canna flaccida will grow in ordinary gardens if adequate water in available. William Bartram also reported in Travels, page 424, that he found a native Indian canna with small scarlet flowers that grow up to 9 feet in height, then identified as Canna indica.
Many southern gardens today still grow this vigorous clumping canna giant as a privacy hedge. Seed pods are many and this canna is readily crossed with the pollen of hybrid non-seed producing cannas. This plant appears to have a high resistance to bugs and disease. Several reports of Canna indica in the literature do not appear to be the same Canna indica, as described by Bartram in 1773 growing at Mobile, Alabama. An excellent drawing of Canna indica (wild Indian canna) is located on page 218 of Bartram's, Travels.
Luther Burbank does not report whether he used Canna indica in his hybridizations, as he had used Canna flaccida (Canna lutea) in his hybridization of the gold medal prize winner at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, N.Y. In 1901, that he called, "Tarrytown," was judged the best canna shown. Thousands of canna cultivars have been introduced into the world of gardening. It has been quite easy to produce new canna cultivars, for instance, if a dusting of pollen is placed on the female part of a canna flower a seed pod can be formed with several seed, and if multiple flowers of canna plants are pollinated, multiple seed pods can be formed. Any gardener can perform this simple procedure of seed production.
For many years gardeners allowed the canna seed to dry, turning black, and a hard shell eventually developed that would prevent the seed from germinating into a plant unless an iron file had been used to open a hole in the round seed about the size of an olive seed to initiate germination. If a file was not used it might take two years for the canna seed to sprout normally. A technique has been developed that avoids the cumbersome seed germination procedures of the past. The seed pods are harvested as soon as the outside green cells begin to change color to yellowish. The seed inside will vary in color from green to light brown or beige, and should be soaked overnight in a solution of fungicide to control rot. The seed then can be placed in a small cloth bag and allowed to be drenched in running water for 12 hours.
If these seed are then soaked for another hour in fungicide and are placed in a flat pan at a sunny warm location they will begin sprouting in a few days. As soon as the seed sprout they may be individually transferred into separate containers to grow, and after the first leaves appear a mixture of miracle-grow will rapidly mature the sprouting seed into flowering plants. TyTy has been successful in growing flowering canna plants only 60 days after sprouting the seed. It is very interesting that when leaved canna plants are crossed, about 25% of the seed will grow into red leaf canna hybrids. This red leaf color is apparent only a few days after sprouting.
It is of great interest to the gardening public that new canna cultivars should feature flowers that fall to the ground after a day or two to be replaced by fresh opening blooms that leave the plant with a fresh appearance, otherwise, withered brown flowers are unpleasant to the eyes of most gardeners. Amateur hybridizers should also keep in mind that most gardeners do not want to experience a canna that must be continuously cared for or nursed, requiring spraying, constant watering or dead-heading. The popularity of canna lilies has been apparent from the huge plantings at the U.S.
Capitol and The White House grounds; serous plantings at Disney in California and Orlando, Fl, and extensive landscapes along U.S. Interstate highways and in city boulevards and parks.
Learn more about various plants, or purchase ones mentioned in this article by visiting the author's website: TyTy Nursery